Ministry, Sermon Prep

Persistence in Prayer

Very often, it seems that our spiritual lives can be marked by seasons. There are seasons of action, seasons of waiting, seasons of darkness, seasons of sadness, seasons of joy, seasons of peace. In seeking what the Lord would have me to do right now, his answer was PRAY. I reiterated my question to him, thinking that perhaps he didn’t understand; I was asking what it was he wanted me to do. I even wrote down a few tasks, good and righteous work, that I thought I should be spending my time doing. My spirit quickly course-corrected as I felt that prompting from His Spirit, “No, you’re not going to do that good thing. You are going to pray.”

“That’s it, Lord? Of course I’ll be praying, but what do you want me to do? I really prefer action and crossing things off of my to-do list. Praying seems so inactive.”

But friends, the Lord is teaching me that prayer is exactly the opposite of inactive. Prayer is active. Prayer is where we meet God. Prayer is where we step deeper into trust and faith. Prayer is where we pour out our truest longings and come to know more of who God is calling us to be. Prayer is where we sit in the presence of God and enjoy him. Prayer is when we listen quietly to his voice. Prayer is where we wait and watch and know God will do the work. Prayer is humility. Prayer is powerful. Prayer is God on the move.

And so the Lord has called me to a Season of Prayer. Seasons can be days long or months long. I don’t know what this season will look like, but that is the beauty of prayer and staying in touch with His Spirit – He will tell me where and when to move next. And He will do the same for you.

In this Season of Prayer and through these lectionary passages of Scripture, God is revealing to me three essential aspects to a life defined by persistent prayer.

First of all, a life defined by persistence in prayer involves boldnessLet us then approach the throne of grace with confidence that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16). In Luke 11 Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray and he uses a story of a rather demanding friend to demonstrate the generosity of God. Imagine a friend banging on your door well after your family is asleep, seemingly desperate for loaves of bread to share with another friend who showed up at his house. He persists, even after receiving a rejection and eventually, this good man likely wakes up his entire household to get to work baking bread for a friend of a friend. Let us be more bold and more brazen than that man when we approach the throne of grace. Let us knock incessantly on the door of God’s throne room, beseeching him for help even in our darkest hours or with our most basic needs. Even when we could probably conjure up a solution all on our own, baking our own loaf of bread rather than pestering Almighty God, let us set our pride aside. God is waiting to give us what we need, and not only meeting our needs with good gifts, but giving us the Holy Spirit, his very presence to be with us always.

Abraham was bold and brazen, too, when he continued to bargain with the Lord for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18. He cried out again and again for the Lord to save the city if he could find even 5 righteous individuals living among the sinfulness. God could have rejected Abraham’s request or refused to listen, but Abraham refused to give up and God honored that tenacity.

Secondly, a life defined by persistent prayer involves consistency. Keep knocking, keep asking, no matter how trivial or how out of reach your request may seem. As I mentioned in my last sermon, spiritual disciplines such as prayer are not to be acted on once or twice or even occasionally. These disciplines produce righteousness in our hearts and connection to God’s Spirit through our continued practice. Prayer involves consistency, invoking the name of Jesus again and again and again. Sometimes it seems redundant, like once we’ve prayed for so and so or for this request or that, we should cross it off the list and be done with it. But persistent prayer means consistent prayer. The more we come to God the more bold we become. Verse 3 of Psalm 138 confirms this: When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me.

Finally, a life defined by persistence in prayer starts with thanksgiving. I will praise you, I will bow down to you, O Lord, the psalmist says. We have endless reasons to offer thanksgiving to the Lord – for his marvelous deeds throughout history, for traces of his grace and goodness in our own lives, for his faithfulness and love and great mercy. It sometimes seems impossible to find reasons to be thankful, particularly when we’re in a season of darkness and despair, where the Spirit of the Lord seems silent and we can’t find any answers. But in those dark days, press into the Lord even harder. Begin to hunt for evidence of Him in your everyday life. Find his grace in simple things, like the reflection of a rainbow in the bubbles of your kitchen sink or the way a baby giggles in the grocery store aisle or finding your favorite comb you thought you’d lost forever…thank God for those things. Thanking him in the small, seemingly meaningless moments of life, will root you firmly into his character and carry you through those dark days. Everyone who seeks finds, right?

Two aspects of my own journey of prayer stood out to me as I studied these passages and contemplated a a life defined by persistent prayer. Concerning the call of God to step into a season of prayer, I thought I would share what that’s been looking like. When I was at annual conference, I spent a lot of time in the church nursery with my baby girl. Across the hall was a room designated as a prayer chapel to be used by anyone during the day. There was a pastor who was stationed there and spent most of the day alone. At one point in the afternoon, through two closed doors, I heard this pastor literally crying out in prayer for at least an hour. He was likely praying through the book of reports, covering each church and each pastor in heartfelt prayer. I was in tears listening to his tenacity, his boldness, his sincere intercession for people he’d never met, believing God’s will would be done in our Southern Michigan churches. I began to pray that way more consistently. I take walks almost every day and when I walk by myself I take the time to pray. I choose a 3 mile path that is mostly secluded so as to pray all the more boldly. I find that praying out loud helps me to focus my thoughts. And so I pray.

I probably look like a crazy person walking through the cornfields of Keegan Rd, talking to myself, sometimes crying, other times grinning like a fool. Those are my very real encounters with God. It takes a while to set aside my conscientious pride and put away my flippant thoughts and truly focus on intercession, but once I do, man, it is the most emboldening experience. Almost always I begin by praying for my church – our church. The ministry I am a part of in this congregation and in this town is a gift that I am incredibly passionate about. I believe God is at work in our church. I believe He is changing our lives and drawing many of us into a lifestyle defined by prayer, transformed by Scripture, committed to honest relationships and conflict resolution. I believe He is freeing us of our dependence on finances and moving us into effective ministry to the hurting and the lost. I believe wounds are being healed – wounds inflicted by church, by friends, by spouses and children. I believe God is pulling our little congregation out of a place of frustration and desolation and into a land of passionately pursing holiness…together. I pray for all of those things.

I pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to move among us, to change us in ways we never imagined. I pray for each of us to be pliable under His firm but gentle hand, willing to endure whatever formative encounters He may have for us. I pray for the state of our church finances; that we would step into a new mindset of budgeting and be willing to give to missions and ministry first, above and beyond what we could possibly afford on our own, believing God will honor this Kingdom-use of money. I pray for miraculous things to happen through our generosity – that our hearts would be changed and become increasingly trusting of God’s goodness, and that we would give God all the glory for the way He will surely provide and even multiply our resources. Oh, may we be faithful!

Then I start to picture these pews and I begin to see your faces. I name you before God praying for fervor for whatever needs I know of and interceding on your behalf for needs that the Holy Spirit brings to my mind. I pray for each of us to be so in love with Jesus and completely committed to weekly corporate worship. I pray that we’d each be moved with compassion for our coworkers, our neighbors, our waiters, and our cashiers that we would begin praying earnestly for each of them and inviting them to join us in church, to be a part of our congregational experience of God.

I begin to pray for needs of my other friends and mentors. I pray for my husband, for wisdom as he pastors this congregation, for passion as he seeks Jesus through prayer and study, and for continued strengthening of our marriage. I pray for my daughter that she would grow into her name – to be a follower of Christ by the grace of God.

And on and on.

Secondly, I thought I’d bring a visual example of how I’ve prayed and encourage you to do the same. These are my prayer journals from March 2014 to now. I use these not only for prayer but also to guide my time with the Lord. I read the daily scripture passages which are included in our bulletins. As I read I write down passages or words or phrases that stick out to me. Sometimes I write out my thoughts about those passages or spend time rereading those lines and ask the Lord what it is that He wants me to hear. If I’m also reading a devotional or a book about the spiritual life, I write important quotes down so I have a mind-body connection to the words and the time to let their meaning steep in my soul. And throughout those types of journaling, I write out my heart’s prayers.

In preparing for today, I read through many of these pages. I was looking for excerpts to share with you and in the process I experienced God all over again. As I reread my petitions, I was struck by the persistence of prayer. There were pages where it seemed I confessed the same sins again and again, pleading with the Lord to deliver me. My heart remembered the heaviness of those sin struggles. And then suddenly I recognized the freedom the Lord had given me. Two years ago I was in bondage to a sin I couldn’t seem to shake. And today I stand to testify to the Lord’s faithfulness to the faithful. Even in the privacy of my own bedroom I was embarrassed to read some of my own confessions and remembered what it felt like to write them down over and over again. But, friends, we must persist in prayer. We must be bold even if we look ridiculous and feel bothersome. We must be consistent even if it seems repetitive and pointless. We must begin with thanksgiving because there is always evidence of God’s work around us. When we persist in prayer, we will be able to look back, maybe months or years from today, and say PRAISE THE LORD.

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